Book Review: Just Jesus (Wink)

Just Jesus
Just Jesus

“How does my autobiography affect my interpretation of Scripture? How has my theology come out of my experiences?”

These are the driving questions of Walter Wink’s memoirs, Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human (Image: New York, 2014). Penned as his reflections upon life and theology during his fatal struggle with dementia, Just Jesus reads something like a collection of reflections by a modern Christian saint, structurally and, at least at times, theologically as well. Compiled with the help of Wink’s wife June and Steven Berry, this work provides numerous insights into the life and thought of one of the most influential American Christian theologians of the 20th century.

Most of Just Jesus deals with Wink’s own life and thought summarized into short reflections upon various events and topics, and serves as a fascinating periscope into how non-scholarly factors shaped and influenced his work. Just Jesus also includes several prayers, poems, and longer essay-length reflections, all of which demonstrate the depth and authenticity of Wink’s faith. Interestingly, Wink reflects little upon his scholarship on the New Testament and involvement with the Jesus Seminar. There are a couple of forays into his interpretations of Jesus’ commitment to subversive non-violent resistance, as well as commentary on the context of early Christianity, but these are framed within the context of experience than anything else. Nevertheless, helpful was Wink’s reminder that, “no scholar can construct a picture of Jesus beyond the level of spiritual awareness that he or she has attained. No reconstruction outstrips its reconstructor” (86). Of additional value are Wink’s reflections upon worldviews, within which he notes the foundational role of our worldviews for all that we do and the impact various worldviews have upon academic study. Especially important for Wink appears to have been the global influences in his life, as he recounts his experiences across the United States (North and South, East and West), Argentina, Chile, and South Africa.

Throughout this work Wink’s perspective comes across as multidimensional, complex, and, at times, downright confusing. His commitment to the liberal theological project is evident throughout, though supplemented with nuggets from other religious traditions as well as more traditional Christian theology. If there is a central theme in this book, it involves reflections upon humanity, how God represents true humanity and how humans must seek to become more fully human by following the example of the human Jesus. The relatively unstructured layout of this book gives rise to some feelings on inconsistency on the part of the author. While Wink seems content to have reflected upon some issues with great clarity and nuance worthy of much reflection, there are other sections where Wink speaks rather simplistically and ideologically, leaving much to be desired by his readers. Apart from the standard objections to the liberal theological project, the most concerning feature of these reflections include Wink’s all too common confusion of New Age self-actualizing philosophy with that of the long-standing Christian teaching on union with God (see 131-2).

Overall, Just Jesus provides some excellent insights into the life and mind of a highly influential American theologian. There is much to think about, as Wink might say ‘to digest’, within these pages for Christians of many theological traditions and backgrounds. Wink’s memoirs provide a powerful reminder of that impact that the world has upon each of us, and provide useful context for his other works. This will not be a beneficial read for everyone, though those even somewhat familiar with Wink or interested in the history of modern American Christianity will find much of value here. All in all, Wink provides much to think about for all his readers as we each struggle to become human.

I received this book from Image Press and Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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